VA Smalltalk 8.6 on Windows 7×64: a first glimpse

Last week Instantiations announced the availability of VA Smalltalk 8.6.

This new release brings a few novelties. First, the installation on Windows 7 (and most likely also Windows 8 and 8.1) works like a charm. There is no special procedure any more for machines with User Acces Control enabled – all files are put into standard locations for windows and you can start working right after installation. The Windows version of VAST comes with a brand new .msi – based installer that installs both client and manager/library manager if you wish.

The new Environments feature may be handy for some users and takes a few tasks from you, but as a long time user I still am not sure if I want to use it. It does do a lot of these tiny little things you have to do to set up a new image with accompanying .ini and stuff, so maybe I’ll switch to it just because it’s easier.

I am fascinated by the new Scintilla based browsers. All the goodness of modern editing tools is finally at my fingertips in the Browsers, Workspaces, Debugger and elsewhere. This is really a neat and cool next step after the addition of Code Assist. I am very sure this will again be something you get so used to use that going back to an older VA Smalltalk version will feel strange and painful. Unfortunately, as a consultant, I am very likely to work with painfully old versions for quite a while. The end of Windows XP will most likely be good news for all VA ST users in that respect 😉

I can’t comment on improvements to many features yet. I haven’t even started porting my main project to 8.6, but when I do, I’ll sure know more about the Glorp version and other stuff within hours.

Here are two things that made scratch my head for a moment when I installed VA ST 8.6 and began to build my cosy little new place for development work:

1. Where to place abtpay86.dll?

If you are a paying VAST customer, you know about abtpayxx.dll. It turns your evaluation copy into a regular installation that doesn’t nag you to buy VAST on every image start. In the past, you downloaded it and copied the dll into the \bin folder in the VA Smalltalk installation directory.

My installation has no \bin folder. All the DLLs and stuff that has always been in the \bin folder are now in the installation directory. So I copied the dll there and all is well.

I am not sure if my installation is broken or if that changed. The readme of abtpay86.dll still says I have to copy the file into \bin, so something might be wrong with my installation.

My first thought was: okay, so it’s now in the installation path – so what!

But this, of course, has also implications onto the structure of a deployment directory for packaged images. Most projects I know use a copy of the develepment environment installation directory and delete a few files out of that (or even leave all as is). In any case, the deployment directory structure also changes obviously. Not a big deal, but we need to remember.

I currently have an open case with Instantiations to find out if my installation is “different” or this is simply a chance and all is good as it is.

[Update 09/19/2013: Here is what I heard from Instantiations about this change (Case 51951):

The instructions for the pay file as originally posted were wrong for Windows. When we introduced the installer, we also restructured the installation. There is no bin directory.
You place the pay file in the root install directory with the other executables. I’ve updated and posted the instructions.

So if you are a paying customer and have downloaded the abtpay86.dll before Sept. 18th, the readme is wrong and you have to copy the dll to your installation root. And you will have to change the deployment directory structure for windows]

2. Where’s the Library?

Ha! Thats a funny one 😉

The new installer installs the Library to the local machine, just as the old installer did. The image accesses the library and things are great.

Until you try to find the Library file. I wanted to copy it onto our Linux server, so I needed the file. But I couldn’t find it. There is no \manager folder in the installation directory of VA ST 8.6. So I looked into the abt.ini of a newly created environment.It says

DefaultName=C:\ProgramData\Instantiations\VA Smalltalk\8.6\manager\mgr86.dat

If you are a Win 7 professional, this sure rings a bell somewhere in the back of your head.

I am not.

So the journey begins with opening a Windows Explorer (I know, but I told you I am not a Windows pro). There is no folder named ProgramData on my C:-drive. At least not a visible one. It is a hidden directory, and if you want to go there using the Explorer you need to change the Explorer settings to show hidden files. You can’t even navigate there by coping the whole path into the explorer if ProgramData is hidden.

This is really not a big deal, but if you happen to step into the same trap, you may remember my post and save a few minutes.

I am not sure I like that Instantiations decided to put the Library into a hidden directory. The library should be backed up frequently and you should be aware of this file. So I’d prefer to have it in some other location. This is of course not a problem, you can move it wherever you like and configure your environments/images to access it at another place, so this is probably only a question of taste. But hey, my taste says: this is not a file that should be hidden.
Now that I found it, however, I’ll move it to our dev server and forget about it.

So I hope I could save you a few minutes when you install VA ST 8.6 and encounter the same problems.

Put these minor things aside, I like VAST 8.6 very much. It is another step into the right direction and even if the new features sound little exciting, I bet people who’ve used 8.6 for a while will not want to miss it!


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